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Getting the bread out

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Customers at Bernice's Bakery have no doubt noted a change in the past week. Gone are the daily samples of rosemary olive oil or sourdough loaves. Those hard rolls filled with hummus or cream cheese have vanished. Employees repeat the same mantra: The bread is gone, but don't worry. The Parker House rolls live on.

Co-owner Christine Littig explains that, after 35 years, Bernice's halted its retail bread production effective Nov. 1. It wasn't an easy decision, Littig says, adding that no employees will be laid off as a result. But bread sales had grown stale, and with the rapid growth of other departments, something had to give.

"Missoula has continued to push Bernice's to be its sweet-treat fix," Littig says. "And we're running out of oven space."

Littig first noticed demand for Bernice's bread flatlining about seven years ago. The bakery continued marketing its loaves, but cake sales took "a massive escalator ride," Littig says. Employees have been "working like slaves" to fill cake orders in a short time and with limited work space. Clients have inquired about carved cakes or seven-tier wedding cakes, which were simply impossible given the breadth of the bakery's operations. The issue came to a head this year.

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"We've been saying 'No,' and that was new for us," Littig says. "2013 was the year of not being able to make the cake someone wanted because we were too booked."

The newfound flexibility in time and workspace should also enable the bakery to expand its line of breakfast products. Littig notes that the jalapeño-cheddar croissants, once only available on weekends, are now in weeklong rotation. After the holidays, she says, "we want to burst out some fun new flavors."

Customers have mostly lamented the loss of filled hard rolls. But Bernice's bread isn't entirely gone. The bakery is still filling orders for its wholesale clients—like burger buns for the Old Post Pub and honey whole wheat loaves for the Good Food Store. And there's still enough bread around to keep the lunch menu intact.

"I loved our bread, and this is a hard one for me," Littig says. "But it's also absolutely necessary based on what Missoula is communicating to us."

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